Review: Ghost Rider – Spirit Of Vengeance

Directed By: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciarán Hinds, Johnny Whitworth, Violante Placido.

Rating:  Running Time: 95 mins

For any comic book fan, Ghost Rider is perhaps thought of as one of the hardest comic book characters to bring to life as flesh and blood. In Mark Steven Johnson’s 2007 adaptation of the character, Nicolas Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a crazy daredevil stuntman who makes a deal with the devil to save his terminally ill father, only he doesn’t read the small print. At night, in the presence of Evil, he becomes the Ghost Rider, a demon with no flesh on his bones that is encompased in the flames of hellfire, and is the devil’s bounty hunter.

From the directors of the Crank movies and Gamer, comes the follow up Ghost Rider: Sirit Of Vengeance, in which Cage returns as Johnny Blaze, now hiding out in Eastern Europe, away from anyone he cares about and doing his best to supress The Rider, as it feeds on the souls of the guilty and it’s hunger knows no bounds – anyone with even the slightest stain on their soul is considered to be guilty – there’s even a dig at movie pirates with the line ‘even that illegal download would count‘. One day Blaze is approached by a motorcycling monk named Moreau (Idris Elba), who asks him for his help to save a young boy.

Unwilling to get involved, Blaze turns him down but is convinced to help when Moreau explains that he knows abot his curse and The Rider, and that in return for him rescuing the boy from a group of mercenaries led by Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth)  and bringing the boy to Moreau, his curse will be lifted and his soul returned. Moreau then goes on to explain why the boy is important – he is the son of Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), otherwise known as the Devil – the one who cursed him, and the Devil wants to inhabit his body, which can handle all of his power, to take over the earth.

The first Ghost Rider movie was a dissapointment, getting a lot of the visual looks of The Rider right, but story wise and overall a very, very uneven movie. This sequel is no better or worse, but unlike that movie’s polished Hollywood style of a big studio picture, Spirit Of Vengeance has a very indie feel to it. The setting in Europe may be partly responsible, as it’s more closer in tone to something that would be produced by Luc Besson than something that would be made by a big American Hollywood studio. Neveldine & Taylor have kept to their roots of fast cutting, with some crazy camera work and some interesting ideas that would have been improvements to the first movie – although there are some down sides to this camera work decision (see later).

There are some truly nice touches here, there are a few scenes where there is some dialogue explaining things to those viewers who do not know the character and the world that well, usually given over some old fashioned styled animations on the screen. There’s also some very sharp attempts at humour throughout the movie, with a couple of prime examples being show during these sequences (Jerry Springer was a previous incarnation of The Devil on Earth, and there’s a whole joke about the Ghost Rider taking a leak that is a visual gag that I challenge anyone not to laugh at!). A sequence which shows Blaze as, while riding a motorcycle, struggling to keep The Rider from getting out, also shows some inner struggle of the character’s turmoil.  There’s also some nice touches in the writing throughout the movie, with an attempt at some explenation for who and what exactly The Rider is and the mythology of how he came to be, adding a little to his character which has very little dialogue, but makes up for with a more than fair share of action.

Nicolas Cage gives as crazy a performance as he did in the first movie, even more so, given that he’s now a haunted man, trying to keep the demon within from getting out and wreaking havoc on the world, while at the same time, playing the crazyness of The Rider when he does come out – according to inteviews with Cage, during the first movie he didn’t portray The Rider, whereas in this movie he portrays both Johnny Blaze and The Rider. There’s a decent performance from Ciarán Hinds as Rourke/The Devil, but personally I loved the performance of Peter Fonda in the first movie, it’s a shame he didn’t return. Idris Elba’s accent throughout the movie, which it seems is supposed to be French (from what I could tell) is all over the place, why they didn’t just have him use his native English Accent is beyond me, it would have been less distracting, and would have perhaps allowed him to infuse his character with a bit more attittude. There’s also the matter of a slight continuity issue (since when was The Rider able to come out during the day?), but it’s hard to tell wether this may be intentional to show some evolution of the character. There’s even some attempt to develop the villain of the piece, Johnny Whitworth’s Ray Carrigan, when his character is made into a creature by The Devil to be able to take on The Rider. Brought back from the dead, and given the power of decay, Carrigan becomes Blackout.

As previously mentioned, the effects are great throughout, but for some younger viewers, even at a 12A there are some scenes that anyone under that age might find slightly distressing – in particular some sequences which show Blackout’s decay power being used to full effects on people, showing their bodies withering a decaying in seconds. These sequences most likely were allowed because it’s considered ‘comic book violence’ but in the cinema that I was in, there were some families which had taken along a few children, some of which were around the 9-10 year old mark, and they momentarily distressed by these sequences, so parents should take this into consideration if taking their kids to see this, that perhaps in this case 12A should remain a 12 at minimum.

One thing that this movie has over the original, if the use of 3D. As a supporter of 3D – if done right – I’m dissapointed, as the movie was filmed in 2D and converted during post production, but… as per my article regarding the retro-conversion of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to 3D, there has been effort to frame the movie during filming to make the 3D work. There aren’t as many moments where the 3D is as fully realised as it could and should be, had it been filmed with the proper equipment, but there are some nice moments, in particular when The Rider dispatches enemies by vapourising them in flames, resulting in a cloud of embers, as well as some nice close up shots on The Rider’s skull, showing that it is truly transparent. A major draw back though of the mixing of 3D with the camera style of Neveldine & Taylor is that it doesn’t really work for a lot of the action/hand-held sequences, with the choppy camerawork meaning that some shots are distracting and hard to follow as your eyes struggle to keep up. 3D needs more composure to work, and this really should have been taken into account.

Overall, there is fun to be had with this movie, but as stated at the start of this, Spirit Of Vengeance is no better or worse than the original, only different, with the outcome being an indie styled version, and that’s a shame, as it could have been so much more. Some may find it to be more to their liking as a break for the typical Hollywood action blockbuster, while others may find it too indie in style for their liking. If it does well, it will most likely get a further follow up, if anything because Columbia wants to keep hold of a franchise that could still be profitable (to prevent the rights reverting back to Marvel who now has it’s own movie studios), or because Nicolas Cage, who clearly relishes playing the character, really pushes for another.

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Posted on February 21, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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